Monday, 22 September 2008
Back in the UK, much is being made of the proposed eco-towns. These are supposed to be developments which encourage living in a more sustainable manner. However, none of them seem to be seriously tackling the problems of transport by making a serious effort to get people out of motor vehicles. The Dutch have tackled this by encouraging people to cycle.
Houten is a few kilometres South East of Utrecht. It dates back hundreds of years, however it was always a small town until the 1960s when it was targeted for growth. In the 1970s, the city's planners decided to discourage car use and encourage the use of bicycles. The city has grown rapidly since then, allowing a lot of new ideas to be built in at the point of design. It now has 47000 residents living with a very low road casualty rate and a very high cycling rate.
To quote from the Houten local government website: "There are 16 districts, each is only accessible to cars via a peripheral road encircling the town. A network of different types of paths for cyclists and pedestrians has been created throughout the area, with a direct backbone thoroughfare to the town centre. Only in residential streets cars are mixed with cyclists. Mostly all schools and important buildings are located along the cyclist's backbone."
We visited Houten on the 2006 Study Tour and found it a pleasure to cycle there.
The local government web page has English language information about Houten, including links to other articles about the city.
While other countries have been slow to pick up on what has been achieved, many of the principles established in the design of Houten have since been used in other new developments and existing cities around the Netherlands. This includes Assen where we base our Study Tours, where the new suburb of Kloosterveen has a strong resemblance to other modern Dutch developments (VINEX wijken) which are influenced by Houten.
Note, though, that Houten itself now find itself in some respects a little outdated. Many things were done first in the city, and these ideas have been adapted as they were adopted elsewhere. For instance, bicycle roads in Houten can be used by motorists as through routes. This is not the case of examples elsewhere. Cycling is far more pleasant without cars and the incidence of bullying by motorists is reduced as a result of keeping motor vehicles away from cycling routes.